Project Management

W.C. Fields, Posthumously Saving Project Management

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A quick internet search on the topic of quotes about attitude returns hundreds of examples, the majority by famous people, including:

  • Milton Berle
  • Maya Angelou
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Benjamin Disraeli
  • Albert Einstein
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Epictetus
  • Confucius
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • Bruce Lee
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Mark Twain
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Leo Tolstoy

…among many others[i]. Virtually without exception their common thread is the idea that the value of a good attitude is widely under-appreciated, particularly when it comes to achieving a desired goal. My favorite, one that seems to encapsulate the others rather nicely, was from W.C. Fields, who said “Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill.”[ii] This quote of his replaces my previous favorite one from him, “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”[iii]

Circling back to’s theme for August, Career Development, I can’t help but to wonder if the difficulties we PM-types are experiencing at the macro level – frustrations in advancing Project Management maturity and lack of widespread acceptance of its precepts as fundamental to business models – aren’t being caused (or at least abetted) by problems at the micro level, namely, how newly minted PM-types develop their careers. So, if there were one extraordinary scalable causal element common to both these problems, what would it be? I’m thinking it’s attitude.

Meanwhile, Back In The PM Seminar World…

Plucking two of the pieces from the W.C. Fields quote above, consider: “Attitude is more important than … education, …or skill.” Besides the extremely valuable opportunities for networking among attendees, isn’t the primary purpose of professional seminars to advance education, or skill among practitioners? Even the exhibitors’ hall is full of people who, yes, want to sell a product, but do so by educating passer-by on how their product or service can help them in their pursuits. And yet, if we are to take W.C. Fields’ quote at face value (or the myriad other similar celebrities’ or famous thinkers’ assertions), almost all of the paper presenters, all of the vendors in the exhibit hall, all of the time and effort spent in developing specific learning or coursework tracks, all of them ought to be considered subordinate to attitude.

This may be where the general thrust of common PM advancement initiatives could use a dose of perspective. I’ve related previously the story of a young Earned Value Management System auditor, who complained that the EV system in use did not calculate the Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP) by dividing cumulative actual costs by cumulative budget. The system admin stated flatly “That’s because that’s not the way you calculate Earned Value.” The auditor exploded. “Do you know PMI®? I’m a PMP®!”, as if that was supposed to stop all conversation that held to the contrary. This episode showcases a tendency for at least a few of those who become highly educated in certain aspects of Project Management to assume an attitude of superiority towards other management practitioners, and to proceed as if that command over the PM codex imparts a certain value to them over and above other members of the organization. I believe that, to the PMs who have been assigned their projects by virtue of being subject matter experts in the area of the pursued scope, this kind of attitude can be highly off-putting, and can easily have a dampening effect on the acceptance of both the PM techniques and the person hired to execute them. Just to be clear: I’m not saying this tendency is by any means germane to the Project Management industry. The disconnect between academics and real-world practitioners within the same subject, the so-called Ivory Tower effect, afflicts virtually all courses taught at the University level, save perhaps the hard sciences.

I’m thinking that the counterproductive aspects of the toxic PM practitioner’s attitude have to do with the perception that they are in command of special, exclusive knowledge, and ought to be both respected and paid well to pass this knowledge along to the project teams (or seminar attendees) who seek it. I’m also thinking that, for the sake of the widespread acceptance of PM theory and the advancement of new practitioners’ specific careers, the opposite attitude, that of enthusiastically using PM techniques to advance the project teams’ goals, regardless of their level of appreciation, is not only appropriate, but sorely needed.

Now, if GTIM Nation will excuse me, my small snake (“Malfoy”) seems to have escaped his carrying pouch…


[i] Retrieved from on August 11, 2019, 11:27 MDT.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Retrieved from on August 11, 2019, 11:39 MDT.

Posted on: August 12, 2019 10:17 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Thanks for this Michael. Attitude is indeed of paramount importance and no amount of training and education can equal the right attitude. Thanks again

Summed up: Have confidence in what you believe, but reserve the possibility that you are wrong! Good post Michael.

Thanks for sharing your opinions.

Michael, so the challenge that many of our newly minted PMs have is that they are not "technical or operational" experts in the areas that they are now being asked to be PM of.... meaning that the team members.. i.e. SME don't see the value in the PM over having one of their peers run the project effort.

And of course our PM brethren default to PMBOK when they don't have the tech knowledge versus learning the basics of the industry.

PM growth has to come with understanding that Project Management requires us not to be SMEs in any technology, but we do need enough understanding to raise the BS flag independently of our PMBOK framework. While General Patton did say " any plan, no matter how poor vigorously executed will succeed" should not be the norm to complete a project.

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"The reason why worry kills more people than hard work is that more people worry than work."

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